Storyboard is a citizen reporting project focused on multilingual families and students who are learning English. Members of Storyboard are teachers, parents, experts and students across San Diego County exploring ways to improve outcomes for students. Storyboard is a joint project of Voice of San Diego and New America California.
It was the first day of third grade, and students at my elementary school in Redwood City had just returned from summer break. My friend Fernanda had only been in the United States for about a year, and because she struggled to speak English, I spoke to her in Spanish.
Fernanda and I both stood at an intersection of language and culture. I was simply further along. Because I attended a bilingual elementary school since I was in kindergarten, I could speak both English and Spanish.
I’d just given Fernanda a friendship bracelet when our teacher interrupted.
“Don’t talk to her in Spanish,” the teacher told me. “It is not allowed. You can only speak English at school now.”
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1) You lose your culture and language because you don't care about it to keep it, SPECIALLY if you belong to one of the ethnic and language groups that even have voting materials translated in their language. Groups that are in the hundreds of thousands here. As an immigrant, in a small community of my ethnicity, I've kept my language and taught it to my kids as their second language just fine. I still cook my ethnic food, watch plenty of my ethnic TV on Dish, drink my ethnic coffee, attend my ethnic cultural events AND my country of origin is 8,000 miles away.
2) Like it or not, business in the US is conducted in English and failing to gain good command of the English language hurts one, more than benefits, professional progress and advancement. This failure has cost many people I know a better career and a better economic life.
I am an immigrant, as I said, I am a Democrat, but also use common sense. We are here cause we figured out it's a better place than where we came from so we should do the things that made this place better to entice us here, AND RESPECT IT. Please feel free to use COMMON SENSE too, INSTEAD of excuses.
This is utter nonsense. You are in the United States. You speak English. Your parents came here NOT because it was exactly the same as home but because it was different. This country works because everyone gave up their ancient hatreds, feuds, and customs and adopted a common culture. Do you want to keep a Mexican identity and live in a Mexican community and speak Spanish? Live in Mexico. Ditto any other community. The country will only survive if the people who are here want to be in this country, not just another version of where they came from.
And by the way, imagine the difference if you didn't use the same alphabet like Poles or Japanese, or spoke a language based on intonation.
@pogimbo T Every year in San Diego the number of parents applying to send their kids to quality language schools outnumbers the seats they have available. Plenty of parents want their kids to pick up another language. And that's true, especially, for white parents.
@pogimbo T Well, it is not either/or. People can learn English but also speak their own language. I love the enrichment of other cultures and it has been going on since this country was founded. Should we outlaw Little Italy/China/Japan and force all residents to speak only standard American (defined how and by whom)? No foreign food, languages, dress? And of course, only welcome white English speaking immigrants. My heritage is Scotch, Irish, English, Cherokee, Swiss. They were all a bunch of poor people who weren't welcomed at the time.
And no, none of them or other immigrants came here to be turned into cookie cutter white protestants. They came for opportunity and hoped to belong and to keep important parts of their culture. The English outlawed kilts. Many countries required all to adopt the state religion. Is that who we are? Do you think the melting pot was just a silly myth or only for melting white people who speak English?
@pogimbo T That common culture you're talking about is constantly infused with the language, food, and culture of each succeeding wave of immigration, and I welcome it. No one is arguing that people shouldn't learn English. The point is that learning English shouldn't come at the cost of suppressing one's native language and culture. As a country we stand to benefit from our immigrant communities becoming full members of their adopted homes while maintaining their cultural identities and ties to their countries of origin, particularly as we seek solutions to international problems.
I grew up in Appalachia. When I went away to college, I endured endless humiliation because of the way I spoke, and this did not change in graduate school or in the workplace. I wrote in standard English, but I spoke a mix of that and the dialect I grew up with. Very few people understand what a dialect is and if you use it in another geographic area, treat you like you are stupid. But yes, Appalachians speak in a dialect. They were isolated and their language changed differently than much of America. Many elements of English from centuries ago were retained.
In any case, I learned to speak only standard English and lost my accent because it gets really old to be laughed at every time you open your mouth. My uncle who has a PhD in physics, retained his accent and he said that when he got up to speak at professional groups, he often heard tittering.
To this day, when I am in a group of well-educated people and tell them where I am from, I look at the time to see how long it takes to hear an incest joke. At least half the time I get one within two minutes. And if I say anything, they are "just joking" and have no clue that it is offensive. And gosh, people feel free to talk about how ignorant rednecks are, etc. as if all residents of Southern and border states are exactly alike. And don't care that they are telling me that my family and friends are all awful.
These experiences have given me a better understanding than most of how people from other cultures are treated. It's sad to see the richness of culture lost. Appalachians have the most creative and colorful speech I have found in this country, Through our history, there have always been outsiders, blacks, Italians, Irish, Scots, Hispanics. We could learn from these cultures, but it seems to be the nature of most people to want immigrants and outsiders to drop their cultural attributes and become generic. I deeply sympathize with Jocelyn and all the people who must make those hard choices. I recommend that she hold on to as much of it as she can because, yes, it is her identity.
The lessons we learned as teachers in the late 1980's all the way to the "advent" of Prop. 227 are still relevant today. It really doesn't matter if a child begins to read in one language by kindergarten, that child will acquire, easily, the second language because the "how to's" are virtually the same. Also being bilingual in Southern California is a big plus as a commercial skill later in life.